Last week in Sunday school, as we were discussing J.I. Packer's book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, one of the ladies present was saying that she was done considering the cross; she'd understood as much as God let her understand about it, and now it was time for her to just study what Jesus taught about obedience. Thankfully, no one else in the room was supporting this point of view...it brought about a fairly lively discussion on whether this approach to faith was workable or to be recommended. I am afraid she felt rather beaten down as she left, which was not the intent of any of us. But it was a topic that excited us to discuss the vital importance of keeping the cross in front of us and continually central to our learning, meditation, and growth.
In all honesty, I'm very sure there has been a time, probably a long period of time, where I would have readily said the same thing. It's funny how that would have been my point of view more in the earlier years of my Christian walk, and now I feel more convinced that the cross in front of me is essential, that I hardly know enough about it. Its continual presence in my mind is crucial. When it's behind me, I think I have it figured out as much as is humanly possible, and that just knowing that I have been saved by it is enough. It's easier, then, to dismiss the horrific effect of sin, the penalty that was taken from me and laid upon Christ; the price that was paid in His suffering and death; the wonder, hope and joy that are effected by His resurrection. To try to learn obedience with the cross behind me instead of in front of me is to remove the very reason and reminder for my obedience from view, so that a little knowledge is a more dangerous thing. Who will obey well and joyfully because they know they simply ought to? But if I will not obey Christ while pondering His suffering and death on behalf of mankind, His willing obedience to the Father even unto death, then my understanding is puny, ineffectual, and unappreciative, and I am in need of a greater understanding, a greater examination and meditation upon the very essence of Christianity, the crux, the crucial thing, the cross. Paul said, For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. That was the essence of all our faith, the starting place on which everything hinges. At the foot of His cross is the place that enables and fuels our everyday walk of obedience.
And it isn't that I'm such a genius that I can continually understand more and more of it every day as I ponder it in my own thinking, though maybe on some days that might be slightly true. I need the input of those who have gone before, those who have discussed it and understood it in greater detail, who have read great writers and had thought-provoking influences expand their own minds...I need to hear daily from not only the Bible, though that is the vital starting place, but also from the great minds for whom it is the abiding joy to wrestle with God's salvific truth from every angle. It is iron sharpening iron; their iron that is better honed, sharpening mine that is duller. So I read books on the cross; I listen to sermons at church and online; and I listen to the words of Christian songs old and new that show the joy and amazement that overflow from the hearts who love Him because of His great sacrifice for us. And I am helped to better understand this ever-flowing life-giving act that He did that has changed me forever, that fountain of hope and joy and peace. The cross.